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House of Commons

Monday 7 March 2016

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Transport for London Bill [Lords]

Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until 14 March (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Syrian Refugees

1. Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): What steps she is taking to provide additional educational support to young Syrian refugees resettled in the UK. [903895]

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): It is part of our moral responsibility to ensure that Syrian refugees who are resettled in the United Kingdom receive appropriate support, especially those young children who take refuge here. The International Organisation for Migration assesses the needs of each Syrian refugee to be resettled in the UK, including any educational support required by children. Those assessments help to ensure that the necessary arrangements are in place, and that the needs of these young Syrians are met.

Gavin Newlands: The Scottish Government currently fund a guardianship service that is unique to Scotland that offers specific support with welfare, education and the immigration process to local authorities and unaccompanied children. Will the UK Government follow in the Scottish Government’s footsteps and increase support for young refugees in the UK?

Nicky Morgan: I think we all agree that those who are seeking refuge from war-torn areas and conflict zones where they have been in situations of immense stress and disruption need all the support they can get. We have system of appointing caseworkers who work with each family or individual who comes here to seek refuge, to identify their needs. In particular, they ensure that children with special educational needs or mental health needs get support, as well as those who have additional educational issues such as needing extra language support.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Following the Government’s welcome decision on 28 January to provide additional refuge for unaccompanied minors coming from conflict zones such as Syria, but also from Europe, what discussions have been held in the Department about providing additional support for those who reach these shores, and to provide them with the effective support they need?

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend recently visited the camp in Calais, and he will know that a cross-Government taskforce has been set up to ensure that all those who claim asylum or come to live in the United Kingdom under the resettlement programme get that support. In my previous answer I outlined the particular areas that my Department takes an interest in, and we must ensure that support is delivered for those with special educational needs, mental health needs, and those who require additional educational support such as language support.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome the steps taken so far. What we have learned from previous arrivals of refugees—for example the Ugandan Asians who came to Leicester many years ago—is that the involvement

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of the diaspora community is extremely important to make people feel at home. What steps have been taken to ensure that the Syrian diaspora is involved in this process?

Nicky Morgan: The Government are extremely sensitive to working right the way across the United Kingdom, particularly with local authorities, and to consider the backgrounds of those coming here and their particular needs. Some will, of course, want to be near to those from their communities and the diaspora; for others there may be reasons why perhaps that is not right, given their particular needs. Great care is taken. People’s needs are assessed and then they are given a guarantee that housing, education and other provision will be ready and waiting when they arrive here.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Given that so far the resettlement and asylum dispersal programmes have been pretty unevenly matched across the country, what extra support can be given to local authorities that are taking in a large number of people? That is often matched with challenging situations in schools, in terms of both school places and school standards, and those areas need extra support.

Nicky Morgan: We work right across the Government, and we have included powers in the Immigration Act 2014 to ensure that help is available to local authorities, particularly those that take in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Kent has taken many of those children, but they have also gone right across the country. Financial help is available through the budget of the Department for International Development, and we have committed £129 million to assist with local authority costs over years two to five of the resettlement scheme. There is additional help for children with special educational needs, and additional funding—including through the pupil premium—for those who have English as an additional language. It is, of course, right to highlight the problems, but the question from the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), and my knowledge of the local area, show that those who come to this country can have huge success and make an enormous contribution to it. We must never forget that.

Free Childcare

2. Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): What progress the Government have made on implementing provision of 30 hours of free childcare for working parents. [903896]

4. Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): What progress the Government have made on implementing provision of 30 hours of free childcare for working parents. [903898]

16. Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): What progress the Government have made on implementing provision of 30 hours of free childcare for working parents. [903911]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): We are delivering on our commitment to provide working parents of three and four-year-olds with 30 hours of free childcare. To ensure providers can deliver high quality childcare, we will increase funding

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for childcare by more than £1 billion by 2019. The Childcare Bill has cleared its parliamentary stages. Twenty five local authorities will be piloting the programme in the summer, ahead of full delivery in the summer of 2017.

Karen Lumley: Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating St George’s in Redditch for the fantastic work it already does? Does he agree that the 30 hours of free nursery education will make such a difference to one of the most deprived parts of my town?

Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Families in deprived parts of Redditch will see £5,000 a year as a result of the 30 hours of free childcare. If they need further support, they can get it through the child tax credit system. The 30 hours of free childcare will help families with the cost of living, enable them to work more hours and give children the best start in life.

Julian Sturdy: I very much welcome the fact that one of the pilot schemes is in York. I congratulate the Minister on all his work on that. As the Minister knows, there is some concern among nursery providers over the future funding levels, driven by the disparity between the amount local authorities pay. Will the Minister consider future ring-fencing to avoid top-slicing by local authorities? Will he also consider visiting nurseries in my constituency to see how the pilot is working?

Mr Gyimah: I should like to reassure my hon. Friend that later this year we will be consulting on an early years national funding formula. As part of that, we will set a firm expectation on local authority top-slicing to ensure that the record investment being made in childcare is allocated fairly and reaches providers on the frontline. I am particularly impressed by the innovation in childcare brought about by the local authority in York, which is why we chose it as one of our early implementers. I would be delighted to visit again.

Oliver Colvile: Has my hon. Friend made an assessment of the number of nursery places in Plymouth, and of whether there is enough provision and capacity?

Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend asks a very important question. The key point is that doubling the entitlement of free childcare is not the same as doubling the demand for childcare. Many parents already buy more than 15 hours and there is spare capacity in the system. The £6 billion funding going into childcare each year should incentivise more providers to enter the market. Where there are specific local difficulties, £50 million has been made available through the spending review to tackle capacity constraints.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): I have heard nothing today to assure me that when parents seek the 30 hours free childcare they will be able to find them. I do not know if the Minister is aware that in Enfield since 2010 482 early-years childcare places have been lost and 114 providers have disappeared. When parents are looking for those places, I would be very surprised if they are there on the ground. What will the Minister do to ensure that he can meet the promises his Government have made?

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Mr Gyimah: I am afraid I have to disagree with the right hon. Lady. In the previous Parliament, the childcare sector created 230,000 new places. I am confident that with record investment the sector will rise to the challenge of delivering the 30 hours. It is about time that we stopped talking down the childcare sector and recognise the continued growth of the industry.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): At recent constituency surgeries, I have had representations from both private providers and state maintained nurseries telling me that the funding simply will not be there. It is no good blaming the sector or blaming local authorities for the fact that the Government have a model that is half-baked, underfunded and running behind time. What is the Minister going to do to make sure that the pledge the Conservatives made to parents at the general election is made real through the availability of places and, crucially, the funding to go with it?

Mr Gyimah: Let me puncture the hon. Gentleman’s question with a dose of reality. The Government are investing more in childcare than any previous Government. At a time when other Departments are facing financial constraint, the Government have made childcare a strategic priority. That is why we undertook the first ever cost of childcare review to ensure that funding is fair to providers and sustainable for the taxpayer.

Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): The National Audit Office report published last week raised concerns about how the 30 hours of childcare for some three and four-year-olds could impact on current provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds. What steps will be taken to ensure that increased provision for one group will not impact on the good work being done with disadvantaged two-year-olds?

Mr Gyimah: The hon. Lady asks a good question, and the answer is that there will be no adverse impact on the offer for two-year-olds. We were the first Government to introduce 15 hours of free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds, and that will carry on. We have increased the hourly rate for the funding for two-year-olds and ensured that the early-years pupil premium continues, so that two, three and four-year-olds who are particularly disadvantaged do not fall even further behind.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): The Minister is right to talk about incentivising providers to come forward, and this is a big opportunity, but may I urge him to take into account the needs of different types of provider—childminders, as well as nurseries and all the other types of setting—all of which should be able to take part in this larger and exciting opportunity?

Mr Gyimah: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. One of the great things about the UK childcare market is the diversity of provision—childminders, nurseries, school nurseries—available to parents, as it means we can meet all parents’ needs, especially when it comes to work. We will make sure that flexibility for parents is at the heart of how the 30 hours is delivered.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): It really is all about delivery. The Minister talks about meeting all parents’ needs, but already 59 local authorities say

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they do not have the places to meet current obligations to three-year-olds, never mind the additional hours. What is he going to do?

Mr Gyimah: Once again, I shall give a dose of reality: 99% of four-year-olds and 96% of three-year-olds are accessing the existing 15 hours of childcare. I am happy to compare our record with that of the previous Labour Government. After 13 years in office, it had provided 12.5 hours of free childcare. In half that time, the Conservative party has provided 30 hours of free childcare. Labour never offered anything for disadvantaged two-year-olds; we have a programme for disadvantaged two-year-olds. We are investing more than any previous Government. It might not like it, but it must accept it: the Conservatives are the party of childcare.

Jenny Chapman: My party introduced Sure Start. There was no Sure Start and there were no children’s centres—no universal offer for any kind of childcare—prior to the Labour Government in 1997. The test of this will be how many families actually use the additional hours and who those families are. How has the Minister managed to concoct a system where a household with an income of £200,000 a year benefits from the additional hours, whereas 20,000 single parents on the minimum wage will not be eligible? How has he managed to come up with something so deeply unfair?

Mr Gyimah: Let me explain the policy to the hon. Lady. She should be familiar with it by now. Our eligibility criteria make absolute sense. To get 30 hours of free childcare, someone needs to be in work and earning more than £107 a week and not more than £100,000 a year—it does not matter if they are a lone parent. That means that if anybody in the family earns more than £100,000 a year, they will not be eligible. I know that Labour Members do not want to hear it, but Labour’s childcare voucher scheme meant that parents earning more than £1 million could get childcare subsidies but the self-employed could not. We are not allowing that to happen in our childcare scheme.

STEM Subjects

3. Derek Thomas (St Ives) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to support provision of STEM subjects in schools. [903897]

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): The Government are determined to make Britain the best place in the world to study science, technology, engineering and maths. Our reforms to the curriculum and qualifications are designed to raise standards to match the best internationally. Our networks of maths hubs and science learning partnerships are supporting schools with the aim of improving the quality of maths and science teaching, and a £67 million package will train up to 17,500 maths and physics teachers by 2020.

Derek Thomas: In my constituency, there are a number of new skilled and well-paid jobs in engineering, space, renewable energy and other highly skilled, high-tech sectors, including the Navy. What further message can I take back to employers to assure them that schools have the resources and expertise to inspire and prepare our young people for these jobs in west Cornwall and the

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Isles of Scilly, and what more can the Department do to ensure that we have the engineers we need as a nation for the future?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend, as a member of the Science and Technology Committee, is a keen advocate of the high-tech sector and particularly of the Goonhilly satellite earth station in Cornwall. He is right to share the Government’s determination to improve STEM skills in this country. That is why the Government fund the Cornwall and West Devon maths hub and the Cornwall science learning partnership, which provide support to schools in west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to improve maths and scientific education. We are also reforming technical and professional education and taking steps to improve the quality of careers advice to young people.

8. [903903] Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Families for schools does an excellent job arranging for business people to visit schools to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, including science and technology entrepreneurs. Will the Secretary of State outline plans to engage more business people with more schools to encourage more young people to help build our enterprise economy, particularly in science and technology?

Mr Gibb: That is precisely what is happening. The local enterprise partnerships are working closely with the careers and enterprise companies because we want to ensure that there is a connection between employers and schools so that a generation of young people inspired by technology can get to know what jobs are available in the technology sector, where, incidentally, earnings are on average 19% higher than for those not working in that sector.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that no Prime Minister was more passionate about science, technology and mathematics and their power to liberate individuals’ potential than Harold Wilson? Does he further agree that Harold Wilson set up the Open University and all those polytechnics that became our new universities in order to help in that process of changing our culture? Can we not now liberate the universities to do more in partnership with schools to get this culture change that Harold Wilson worked so hard to achieve?

Mr Gibb: The hon. Gentleman seemed to get a bigger cheer for mentioning Harold Wilson than he would have done if he had mentioned the current leader of the Labour party. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, about the importance of inspiring young people. University technical colleges have been established to do precisely that, and we have seen a huge increase in the number of young people taking STEM A-levels, with the number taking maths A-level going up by 18% so that some 82,000 young people are now taking it. It has become the single most popular A-level choice, while both physics and chemistry A-level entries have increased by 15%.

Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): We currently have a situation in which the income threshold for non-EU workers could be raised to £35,000, which

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will cause issues for many STEM teachers currently working in UK schools, as well as for teachers that could be recruited from abroad. Will the Minister explain to schools that have gaping holes in STEM teaching positions how he is working with the Home Office to ensure that we can continue to recruit from abroad?

Mr Gibb: As the hon. Lady will know, there is a consultation taking place with the Home Office on these very issues, and it will report in due course.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): One of the traditional problems with getting more students to study STEM subjects has been the difficulty of persuading girls to take such subjects up to A-level and beyond. Does the Minister have any evidence to show that policies to encourage more girls to take up these very important subjects are working?

Mr Gibb: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government recently set out an ambition to see a 20% increase in the number of girls’ entries to science and maths A-levels by 2020. We established, with industry, the Your Life campaign, which is designed to encourage young people, and especially girls, to choose maths and physics. We have seen a huge increase in the number of girls taking A-levels in physics, from 5,800 in 2010 to 6,800 this year, and in maths, from 28,000 in 2010 to 31,000 this year. However, there is still more to do.

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): In Stoke-on-Trent, we have decided to do something about the crisis in maths teaching. Will the Minister congratulate inspiring head teachers Roisin Maguire and Mark Stanyer, along with the city council and the Denise Coates Foundation, on establishing the £1 million maths excellence partnership, which was opened by Sir Michael Wilshaw last week to attract maths graduates to Stoke and to support the continuing professional development of current classroom teachers?

Mr Gibb: I am delighted to join the hon. Gentleman in passing on my congratulations. It is good to see inspirational, imaginative and innovative programmes that are designed to encourage more young people with science backgrounds to come into teaching.

Careers Education

5. Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con): What progress the Careers & Enterprise Company has made on improving careers education and inspiring young people about the world of work. [903900]

10. Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): What progress the Careers & Enterprise Company has made on improving careers education and inspiring young people about the world of work. [903905]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): The Careers & Enterprise Company has made excellent progress in its start-up year. It is opening up schools to the world of work and opening up the world of work to schools, which, as all experts agree, is a key ingredient of high-quality careers education and guidance.

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Craig Tracey: I was delighted to meet representatives of the Careers & Enterprise Company recently in my role as chairman of the all-party women and enterprise group. What steps will be taken to ensure that great models and mentors are provided to supplement the company’s work, and that students from all backgrounds are aware of the wealth of opportunities that are available to them once they have left education?

Mr Gyimah: That is an excellent question. In the past, too much emphasis has been placed on one-to-one careers advice, which is often provided too late and not delivered effectively. That is why £70 million has been made available over the current Parliament to fund careers services, including a new national mentoring scheme that will focus on the most disadvantaged. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about mentors, especially for young girls, and especially in relation to STEM subjects and professions.

Rebecca Harris: Does my hon. Friend agree that the old careers service is all too often regarded as a source of mild and gentle humour by people when they remember their schooldays, perhaps because they were approached too late? Is it not enormously important for businesses and, indeed, employers throughout all sectors to offer work experience—and not just to young people, to whom I know many Members offer that here in the House?

Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Careers advice has long been the punchline for a joke, and many people found that the advice that they were given did not make sense to them at all. In our careers strategy, we are focusing on real, practical employer interactions so that the world of work can go into schools, and so that children can see what is out there, have their passions roused, and work out what is best for them.

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): The Minister will be delighted, because he has lost the punchline for his joke. He should go easy on the self-congratulation, given that the Government have presided over the disintegration of careers services for young people. Cuts have decimated council-led youth support and Connexions, and the Department has failed to include work experience in the curriculum. No wonder the CBI told it that the careers service was broken. Young people will need that help from the Careers & Enterprise Company to start repairing five years of damage. Will the Minister tell us what resources will be given to volunteer enterprise advisers—after all, only £17 million a year is going to the company—and just how many of them there will be for the thousands of schools and further education colleges that need them?

Mr Gyimah: The hon. Gentleman talks as though there had once been a golden age of careers advice and service, but anyone could tell him that there has never been such a golden age. The missing piece in careers advice and guidance was employer interaction, and that is what the excellent Careers & Enterprise Company is setting up. As part of its strategy, it is rolling out enterprise advisers, and 30 local enterprise partnerships have signed up to be part of that. Every school will have an enterprise co-ordinator to link it to the world of work.

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University Technical Colleges

7. Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): What progress the Government are making on supporting the establishment of university technical colleges. [903902]

The Minister for Skills (Nick Boles): With 59 university technical colleges open or in development, we are well on the way to meeting our manifesto commitment of opening a UTC within reach of every city.

Gareth Johnson: Will the Minister join me in welcoming the excellent work being carried out by the Leigh UTC in my constituency? UTCs play an increasingly vital role in ensuring that we have the engineering and scientific skills that are needed in the workplace. Will he do all that he can to ensure that the Leigh UTC is allowed to flourish?

Nick Boles: Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that he is doing with the Leigh UTC. It is a particularly good example, not least because it is part of a very successful multi-academy trust, and that is a situation that we want replicated across the university technical college movement, because UTCs are stronger inside multi-academy trusts.

Priority School Building Programme

9. Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): What plans she has to expand the Priority School Building programme. [903904]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): The Priority School Building programme was established to rebuild and refurbish those schools in the very worst condition across the country. The £4.4 billion programme is targeting funding to address urgent condition need at 357 schools. The Department has made no decision in relation to a third phase to the programme.

Rachael Maskell: The Priority School Building programme, which was downgraded in the last Major Projects Authority report, has resulted in just one school in York being earmarked for repairs, rather than addressing the urgent needs of 10 schools, including three overdue rebuilds. It is costing the local authority £1.23 million just to keep those schools open. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the urgent need for funding for school buildings in York? Will he also review the Education Funding Agency’s condition survey, given that the data collected do not provide the comprehensive evidence base necessary to match local authority priorities?

Mr Gyimah: I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the issues in York. Just to give her an update, two schools are being rebuilt or refurbished in York Central under the Priority School Building programme. Carr Infants School is under construction as part of PSBP phase 1, and Badger Hill Primary School will have its condition need met under PSBP phase 2. A total of seven schools have applied for both phases and are being considered, but I would be happy to meet her to discuss these matters.

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Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I recently visited Paignton Academy, which serves my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). Some of its buildings are in quite poor condition, with many of them dating from the 1930s. Will the Minister agree to meet me, my hon. Friend and a delegation from the school to assess what can be done to get a rebuild on track?

Mr Gyimah: I did not realise that this was going to be a diary session, but I am of course happy to meet the Minister and other members of his local authority to discuss their funding needs. As I have said, the Priority School Building programme is for schools in urgent condition, and schools in his area could also apply to the condition improvement fund.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman himself is the Minister. “Know thyself” is quite a useful principle in politics, as it is more widely in life.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): What steps is the Department taking to promote the installation of fire suppression systems while repair work is being done to schools as part of this programme?

Mr Gyimah: The hon. Lady has bowled me a googly. I shall have to look into this and write to her.

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): Will the Minister join me in welcoming the news that the Comenius Trust has just been selected to build a brand new primary school at Endsleigh in Bath? This will help to plug a growing hole in the primary school numbers in our city, which is ever popular with young families.

Mr Gyimah: I join my hon. Friend in welcoming that news. It is good to hear positive news about school places, because there is too often a lot of scaremongering about places and place need.

Disadvantaged Young People

11. James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to support the educational attainment of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. [903906]

The Minister for Children and Families (Edward Timpson): We are determined to deliver educational excellence everywhere so that every child reaches their full potential regardless of their background. That is why we are protecting the pupil premium at current rates for the duration of this Parliament, giving schools billions of pounds in additional funding to improve disadvantaged pupils’ attainment.

James Cartlidge: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I very much welcome today’s announcement on fairer funding in schools, which many of us have campaigned for since our election. Does he agree that the best way to support pupils from a disadvantaged background in rural areas is precisely by having a national funding formula that is based on need, irrespective of where that need arises?

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Edward Timpson: My hon. Friend has, in many ways, highlighted the basic principle behind our consultation on a new national funding formula—it is simply about fairness. The old system has for decades been too complex, convoluted and unfair, with even disadvantaged children being disadvantaged by it. This change is long overdue, and it cannot be right to have anything other than a needs-based system. That is what we want to implement, and we want to work with everyone to make sure that we make it happen.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): But the Minister will be aware that children in schools in which a high proportion of pupils are on free school meals are much less likely than they were five years ago to be able to be taught by a qualified teacher in art, dance, music or drama. Two thirds of professional parents pay for additional lessons in those subjects, but parents on lower wages are much less likely to be able to afford them. Are working-class kids going to be excluded from the creative subjects in our education system?

Edward Timpson: The right hon. Lady has an admirable track record of pursing the more creative side of school life—I admire her persistence in doing so—but right across the country many schools with strong heads are recruiting heads of music, dance and drama, and providing many other extra-curricular activities. We have a basic strong curriculum, which all children need to be taught, and we are supporting disadvantaged children through the pupil premium, the pupil premium plus and special educational needs reforms to ensure that they get the support that they need, and the rounded and grounded education we want for all children. We need to make sure that schools are making such decisions and strong heads know exactly how to achieve that.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Coming from a disadvantaged background is just one reason for poor educational attainment, and in coastal communities such as my constituency, that is a particular issue. In addition to the national teaching service, what support is given to areas such as mine?

Edward Timpson: The national teaching service has been an important innovation in trying to ensure that we have a strong teaching workforce in all parts of the country, including my hon. Friend’s constituency. That is why we have made significant investment in those areas where recruitment has been more difficult in the past, such as in STEM subjects, among others. It is also why we continue to ensure that we pay the pupil premium to those schools so that, through the virtual school heads and other support, they are getting the standard of teaching they deserve.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Will the Minister explain further how the new proposed national curriculum will cater for the needs of disadvantaged pupils? In particular, can he explain the following sentence in today’s written statement:

“For pupils with high needs, the local authority remains the right level at which to distribute funding”?

Edward Timpson: That is correct.

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Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): On Friday, I had the opportunity to meet representatives of Blue Smile, a local charity in Cambridgeshire that makes provision for those suffering from mental health issues. I was told that many schools use their pupil premium for the services of Blue Smile to help to deal with mental health issues in their schools. Does the Minister agree that the provision of mental health services in schools to solve issues at a very early stage is crucial?

Edward Timpson: My hon. and learned Friend is right to highlight the importance of establishing as early as possible the underlying causes of a child’s ability or inability to learn in school, which can be a result of emotional and mental health issues. That is why some schools are being extremely innovative about how they access pupil premium money to offer individual support to those children so that they are able to be in the best space possible to learn to the best of their ability.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): We know that summer schools address educational inequalities among some of our most disadvantaged pupils, as well as helping to tackle holiday hunger, yet recent surveys show that 64% of schools are worried they will not be able to offer this vital intervention because of a Government cut sneaked out just before Christmas—that was perhaps not the kind of Christmas present that vulnerable pupils were hoping to receive from the Minister. With the attainment gap now wider than it was when the Prime Minister came to office, summer schools have proven very effective in helping to give disadvantaged children a good start at secondary school. Why are Ministers ignoring this evidence and scrapping funding for summer schools?

Edward Timpson: The hon. Lady raises an area of education of which I have seen some excellent examples. However, she must remember the backdrop against which we are taking the education system forward. We have protected funding, with more money going into primary and secondary education than ever before, as well as a protected pupil premium of £2.5 billion over the next year. We have a strong curriculum for primary school children so that they learn the basics and have the building blocks to ensure that they have a brighter future. It is for schools to decide how they can achieve that, but they have the money to make it happen.

Schools Admissions Appeals Process

12. Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the schools admissions appeals process. [903907]

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): When parents are refused a place for their child at a school of their choice, it is important that they have the opportunity to appeal that decision. A robust system is in place for handling admissions appeals, including complaints about appeal maladministration. We are currently reviewing the admissions systems, including whether changes to the school admission appeals code are necessary. We will conduct a full public consultation on any changes in due course.

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Tulip Siddiq: The Secretary of State recently stated her ambition for the Government potentially to ban civil society organisations from raising concerns about the admissions processes of schools. Those organisations perform an important public duty. Constituents have been in touch with me to say that they find the admissions process too complex and too lengthy to deal with by themselves. Does the Minister agree that banning civil society organisations from raising concerns will not only exacerbate the difficulties that parents already face, but further enable breaches of the admissions code?

Mr Gibb: The purpose of that announcement was to enable the chief schools adjudicator to focus on the concerns of parents and not to have the system absorbed by the need to handle multiple objections by campaigning organisations. That was a recommendation of the adjudicator as a consequence of her experiencing those issues in her term of office.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I think that the Minister is referring to secular organisations that have been trying to clog up faith school application and appeals processes. Will he confirm to the House that the code of practice brought in at the beginning of this year will specifically prevent that sort of thing from occurring?

Mr Gibb: Yes. The announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was to ensure that the school admissions process is fair, that parents—and only parents—can object to admission arrangements in their area if they regard them as unfair, and that it is not used as a campaigning tool.

Numeracy Standards

13. Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to improve maths and numeracy standards in primary schools. [903908]

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): The Government are committed to raising standards in primary maths. We have introduced an ambitious new national curriculum that places greater focus on written and mental arithmetic. Long multiplication, long division and fractions are now compulsory for all pupils. We have strengthened primary mathematics assessment, removed the use of calculators from key stage 2 tests, and pledged to introduce a multiplication tables check for all pupils at the end of year 6.

Chris Green: I thank the Minister for his reply. Improving the standards of maths and numeracy in primary schools is crucial for children in later life, as they provide the foundation for more advanced learning. What are the Government doing to ensure that more children leave primary school with the expected levels of maths and numeracy?

Mr Gibb: We have launched a network of 35 maths hubs. These school-led centres of excellence are driving the transformation of teaching based on best practice internationally. Hubs have delivered a successful teacher exchange with Shanghai and have introduced high-quality Singapore textbooks to schools. Increasing numbers of primary school teachers are working with hubs to adopt effective south-east-Asian mastery approaches to teaching to ensure that every child leaves primary school with the expected levels of maths and numeracy.

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Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): May I press the Minister a little further? I have experience of teaching statistics to A-level students, and I have observed that some of those students could not do simple arithmetic because they never learned multiplication tables in early primary education. I suspect that that is still a problem today. What are the Government doing to ensure that all our children are required specifically to learn multiplication tables in their early years at primary school?

Mr Gibb: We have introduced into the new primary curriculum a requirement that by the end of year 4 all children will know their multiplication tables to 12 times 12. We will introduce a multiplication check next year to ensure that every child knows their multiplication tables by heart. That is a wonderful achievement. If we can ensure that every child leaves primary school knowing their multiplication tables by heart, it will transform mathematics teaching in this country at secondary school and beyond.

Faith Schools

15. Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): If she will make an assessment of the contribution of faith schools to society. [903910]

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): Church and faith schools have made a significant contribution in helping to shape our education system over many years. They are among our best performing schools in the country and parents of all faiths and of none value them for the quality of their education and their strong ethos. We continue to work closely with faith organisations to ensure that the religious character of their schools is maintained and developed.

Sir Edward Leigh: All that is undeniable: faith schools are extraordinarily popular, so why do the Government insist on the cap of 50% on people of a faith attending a new free school? We all know that the Government’s hidden agenda is that they do not want 100% Muslim schools, but the fact is that few Muslim schools are oversubscribed anyway, so all this is doing is preventing the Catholic and Anglican new free schools from coming on stream. Why not abolish the cap and let freedom prevail?

Mr Gibb: The 50% limit on faith admissions to free schools ensures that the new high-quality school places that they provide are available to local children, not just those of a particular faith, and it helps to ensure that those pupils receive an inclusive and broad-based education. We are always happy to hear representations on how best to achieve those goals and I would certainly welcome applications to establish, for example, more Catholic free schools, but I understand why the Catholic Church in particular is reluctant to do so.

Topical Questions

T1. [903920] Mr Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

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The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): I hope that hon. Members will be glad to hear that today we have published proposals for consultation to start the process of introducing a national funding formula for schools from 2017-18. These plans will ensure that every school and local area, no matter where it is in the country, is funded fairly. It will ensure that pupils with similar needs attract the same level of funding and give headteachers far more certainty over future budgets. Areas with the highest need will attract the most funding, so pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds will continue to receive significant additional support. That is a key part of our core mission to have educational excellence everywhere.

Mr Shuker: Luton Girls’ Academy was given £100,000 by the Secretary of State’s Department but never opened. I have repeatedly asked the Department for Education to tell me whether that money has been paid back, yet neither written parliamentary questions nor freedom of information requests have garnered an answer. When will she tell me how much money was wasted on this free school project?

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State, Lord Nash, on 29 January 2015 telling him why the project could not go ahead and that it had fallen short of the rigorous criteria we have set. Total pre-opening revenue costs for Luton Girls’ Academy will be published by the end of March. In line with our transparency agenda, our policy is to publish expenditure data clearly, and that means that we publish the full pre-opening revenue cost of cancelled or withdrawn free school projects, once the amount of expenditure has been finalised and taking into account any repayments.

T2. [903921] Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): When I was sitting over there on the Opposition Benches I asked Prime Minister Tony Blair what he was going to do about Staffordshire, which was always in the bottom 20 for funding compared with other local education authorities. He agreed with me and said it was very unfair, and then he did nothing. May I commend the Secretary of State for getting on with this wonderful consultation? What recommendation would she give to my constituents, teachers and parents, to ensure that we get fairer funding for schools in Staffordshire?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend very much, and I am delighted that we are making progress on this important issue. Is it not typical that it takes a majority Conservative Government to do that? I urge my hon. Friend to encourage his constituents and schools in his constituency, such as John Taylor High School, which I recently had the pleasure of visiting, to ensure that they take part in this important consultation.

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op): As the MP for the home of British cycling, may I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the amazing success of the British cycling team in the track world championships last week? On the day before International Women’s Day, the incredible Laura Trott should be singled out for her medal haul. Let us hope she is paid as much as her male colleagues, if not more—something that the Secretary of State does not seem very good at achieving for women in her own Department.

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There will be 156 new GCSE and A-level specifications taught from September. With just 17 teaching weeks left of this school year, how many of those are ready?

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): I thank the hon. Lady. Is it not typical that she identifies an issue—the gender pay gap—which her party did nothing to address when it was in power? It is this party that is publishing the regulations to make sure that public sector and private sector organisations will disclose that. The gap is not widening; it is narrowing. I join her in congratulating the cycling team, including Laura Trott, on their tremendous achievements. Ofqual is working with the exam boards to make sure that all the specifications are ready. I understand that more than 65 are now ready, but there is further information on that to be made public by Ofqual.

Lucy Powell: That is right: just 65 or 66 of the 156 specifications are ready—less than half. Core EBacc subjects, such as sciences and modern foreign languages, are still to be approved. The Government’s own workload challenge promised teachers a lead-in time of one year for significant changes to qualifications, but as matters stand teachers will have just weeks or no time at all to prepare for these huge changes. Is not the truth that the Government’s fixation with micromanaging every part of the curriculum—including, we hear this week, the use of exclamation marks—is causing the delay, and that they are way behind with these new exams? It is no wonder we have a teacher shortage.

Nicky Morgan: The exam boards have already published the specifications and assessment materials in draft. They are working their way through to make sure that the specifications are ready to be published. We want to give teachers as much notice as possible—[Interruption.] Is it not typical that the Opposition need to learn the lesson that the Vote Leave campaign needs to learn as well—that if they talk about the negatives all the time, they will find that those are self-fulfilling? If they want to set out an alternative, they need to do that with some policies. What we on the Government Benches are doing is raising the standards of our qualifications. I met Ofqual last week to talk about specifications. It is making progress. [Interruption.] Either the hon. Lady wants to raise standards in our education system or she does not. By the nature of her question, she clearly does not.

T4. [903923] Mr Alan Mak (Havant) (Con): Archie Hayward, a 15-year-old student from Warblington school in Havant, is the first British teenager to secure work experience at the CERN science laboratory in Switzerland. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Archie and confirm that the Government will continue to support careers in science and technology?

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Archie Hayward on his significant achievement, which I am sure will provide him with the insight and inspiration to continue studying science and mathematics. We want to see more young people studying those subjects, which can lead to so many rewarding and interesting careers in science and engineering, which the Government are supporting through a more challenging curriculum and qualifications, better teaching and improved career advice in schools.

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T3. [903922] Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): A head teacher in my constituency showed me the sample paper for this year’s key stage 2 SATs. The paper included questions about the subjunctive form, past progressive, subordinating, conjunction and many other such gems. I am tempted to ask how many Members here could answer questions on those topics, but the more important question is how many children could do so. Does the Minister understand the concerns put to me by head teachers that they want the very highest standards for the children they are looking after, but, far from helping to raise standards, such an approach runs the risk of setting 10 and 11-year-olds up for failure?

Mr Gibb: It is important to understand the scale of the reforms to the primary curriculum. In four or five years every child could be leaving primary school knowing their multiplication tables by heart and being a fluent reader because of our focus on phonics, eliminating illiteracy in this country, and for the first time in several generations primary schools are explicitly teaching English grammar. The hon. Gentleman should welcome these reforms.

T6. [903925] Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con): Virtual school heads are taking great steps in promoting the educational achievements of all children looked after by their local authority. Will the Minister join me in encouraging the progress of virtual school heads such as mine in North Warwickshire and ensure that they help to facilitate the entitlement to a good education for all children and young people in care?

Edward Timpson: I am more than happy to do so. The reason we put the role of virtual school heads on a statutory footing in the last Parliament is that they make a significant contribution, acting as the pushy parent promoting the educational progress and achievement of children in care by championing their needs and working closely with schools. Since March last year they have had responsibility for managing the pupil premium plus, which provides an extra £1,900 for every child in care to enable them to access the extra support that makes sure they can really fulfil their potential.

T5. [903924] Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): This morning I spoke to the headteacher of one of Sheffield’s best-performing secondary schools, which is in my constituency. The Secretary of State talks about the need for certainty in the funding formula, but that headteacher is deeply concerned by the uncertainty created by the lack of detail in this morning’s statement. Like all good heads, he plans in advance, and he is now recruiting for 2017, but he is unsure what his funding will be in that year. When can I tell him that he will know whether he is a winner or a loser as a result of the consultation?

Nicky Morgan: It is important that we understand the basic principles behind why we are having a consultation on the funding formula—that the same pupils, with the same characteristics, across the country need to attract the same amounts of money. There will obviously be another consultation on the details, but it is important that we know about the weightings behind the factors and that there is certainty and transparency for all schools going forward. We have said there will be a phased transition, and that we will be very mindful of

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those schools where there is potential for there to be less funding, to make sure they are not destabilised. However, it is absolutely right that it is this Government who have grasped this nettle after many years of previous Governments absolutely flunking that test.

T9. [903928] Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend please join me in recognising the vastly improved design and technology GCSE, which comes into play next year and which will help to inspire the next generation of technical and engineering professionals?

Mr Gibb: Yes, we have made some significant reforms to the D and T GCSE and A-level, working closely with the Design and Technology Association and the James Dyson Foundation to ensure we have high-quality D and T qualifications that lead on to higher education, apprenticeships and high-quality employment in the sector. I hope the qualification itself will lead to more young people taking it.

T7. [903926] Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): Last week I attended an event organised by Positively UK and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in my constituency to celebrate the lives of women living with HIV. Does the Minister agree that not enough is being done to educate children in schools about HIV and the support available to women living with it?

Mr Gibb: The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. It is one of the very few explicitly statutory requirements that young people in secondary school have to be taught about the dangers of HIV. I share her concern. We need to improve the quality of PSHE education throughout our system.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): The Minister will be aware of the huge pressure on school places in the London borough of Havering and in all outer London boroughs at the moment, particularly with the new bulge classes being imposed on primary schools, such as Gidea Park primary school in my constituency. What extra funding and support will the Government give to schools that face such pressures at this time?

Nicky Morgan: Havering local authority received £23 million of basic need funding for places between 2011 and 2015, which helped to create nearly 3,000 new places. It has also been allocated a further £47 million to create the places needed by 2018. I should also say that we are pleased that a new free school is scheduled to open in Romford this September. Concordia Academy will provide 630 additional primary places in the area, and I hope my hon. Friend will work with other providers to encourage more free schools to be built in the local area.

T8. [903927] Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): The recent, and latest, children’s home data-pack shows that there has been little change in the numbers of children placed at some distance from their home areas since 2012, despite the introduction of welcome new regulations. The underlying problem continues to be the unequal distribution of children’s homes across the country. What more can be done to support local authorities to work together and use their commissioning powers to ensure more local provision of children’s homes?

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Edward Timpson: I share the hon. Lady’s concern that a large number of children are still being placed out of area in residential care—although of course there are always exceptions to the rule where it is better for them to be so. That is why we have commissioned the independent review from Sir Martin Narey to look at residential care in the round of all care options for children. The review will include how we can have a better spread of residential care in terms of geography and types of care on offer so that children who do see this as their best possible route through the care system have a better prospect than they do currently.

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): I welcome the consultation on a fairer funding formula, especially since it includes high-needs funding, which is underfunded in Kingston. What is my hon. Friend’s Department doing to support families navigating the new system in place for special educational needs provision?

Edward Timpson: One of parents’ biggest frustrations with the old SEN system was not knowing about, or finding it hard to access, the right support for their children. That is why I recently announced a further £80 million of support for the SEN reforms in 2016-17, including an additional £15 million for the independent supporters who act as catalysts for change in enabling families and young people better to navigate the system. Some 45,000 families have already benefited from that extra support.

T10. [903929] Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Free school meals are a lifeline for many vulnerable families in my constituency, yet there are still too few families getting the benefit. Does the Minister agree that local authorities that have the data required to identify these kids should have an automatic, perhaps a statutory, obligation to do so?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I know that his colleague, the hon. Member for, I think—[Interruption.] His colleague, Frank Field, is proposing a private Member’s Bill on this issue. I agree that all families who are entitled to free school meals should be able to obtain them. There are issues to do with the collection of data and the sharing of information between different benefits, but I am keen, as I say, to make progress on this very important matter.

Mr Speaker: I think Birkenhead was the place the Secretary of State had in mind.

Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con): Given the strong link, in some cases, between early-age cannabis use and future mental health issues, what is the Minister’s assessment of efforts by schools to tackle and deter illegal drug use?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): The Government have taken steps to tackle behaviour and discipline in schools, and teachers’ powers to search pupils for prohibited items, including illegal drugs, have been strengthened. They have the power to discipline pupils for misbehaviour and to confiscate, retain or dispose of a pupil’s property as a disciplinary penalty where reasonable to do so. A school’s behaviour policy should set out its approach to confiscating prohibited items.

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Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): Last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw warned of a brain drain due to the recruitment and retention crisis in teaching that the Minister is well aware of. I appreciate the Minister’s earlier answer about the use of qualified teachers in classes being up to schools, but does he share my concern that teaching assistants are increasingly being used to teach SEN and low-attaining pupils?

Mr Gibb: I do not accept the comments of Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools. We are doing everything we can to recruit. Despite increasing pupil numbers, and the challenge of a strong economy and the strengthening graduate jobs market, we are ensuring that there are now record numbers of teachers in our classrooms. There are 13,000 more teachers in our classrooms today than in 2010. Recruitment in teaching

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is a challenge. I use every platform I have to extol the virtues and rewards of teaching to help raise the status of the teaching profession. What does the hon. Lady do?

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will the Minister join me in welcoming the development of high-quality curriculum materials under the banner of Education Destination, which uses the Isle of Wight’s natural environment and attractions to teach outside the classroom?

Mr Gibb: Yes, of course. Field trips, and trips to the theatre and to museums and so on, are a very important part of education, and we would encourage more schools to organise as many such trips for young people as possible.

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Royal Naval Deployment: Mediterranean

3.34 pm

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement on the announcement that the Royal Navy will join NATO forces in the interception and return of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Fallon): The scale of the migration challenge requires NATO, the European Union and other countries across Europe to work together to address both its symptoms—the constant flow of migrants and the conditions we see them face—and the causes in Syria and beyond. We must also work with local civilian authorities to tackle the gangs that profit from smuggling migrants.

The United Kingdom has already been engaged for several months, with the Home Office ship VOS Grace deployed in the region since November with a detachment of Border Force officers.

On 11 February, NATO Defence Ministers took the decision to deploy NATO ships, better to enable Turkish and Greek coastguards to intercept the migrant boats and disrupt the smugglers’ business model. Standing NATO maritime group 2 arrived in the region within 48 hours of that decision and has been conducting initial reconnaissance and surveillance of illegal crossings since then.

The NATO Secretary-General outlined in a statement yesterday evening that discussions between NATO, Turkey and Greece have agreed that NATO vessels can now operate in Greek and Turkish territorial waters.

We have, therefore, decided that the UK contribution is to send Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay and a maritime Wildcat helicopter to the Aegean. Their roles will be to support the NATO monitoring and surveillance task. They will work alongside three Border Force boats: the VOS Grace, the cutter Protector, which is on its way to the region, and a further cutter, which is expected to start operations later this month. Together they will support the Turkish and Greek coastguards and the EU Frontex mission.

The Prime Minister is attending today’s EU-Turkey summit on migration. Contributing to the EU and NATO missions to counter smuggling is only part of the Government’s wider approach to tackling the root causes of irregular migration. The United Kingdom is leading the way in tackling those issues at their source, providing significant amounts of aid to assist in stabilising troubled regions and lessening the need for people to leave. In the meantime, the Royal Navy deployment is an important part of the international effort to assist the Turkish and Greek authorities in reducing this criminal and dangerous people trafficking.

Mr Carmichael: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and, in particular, for coming to the Chamber to make the statement. He describes a series of tactics, many of which will find broad support in this House, but it seems to me that, taken together, they do not add up to a strategy. Today’s press refers to a “war against people traffickers”. If we are to win that war, we need to cut off from the people traffickers the supply of those who are desperate enough to pay to use them. Of course,

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in the longer term that means getting peace in their countries of origin, but in the short to medium term, surely it means a series of safe and legal routes into Europe, the expansion of the refugee family scheme and the introduction of humanitarian visas.

What will happen to those seeking refuge who are intercepted in the Aegean? Will they be taken back to Turkey? Does that not run contrary to the principle of non-refoulement, which is at the centre of international refugee law?

What will be done to keep under review the widely questioned status of Turkey as a “safe country” to which people can be returned? Is the Defence Secretary aware of the reports from Human Rights Watch describing people being sent from Turkey back to Syria? What impact do the Government think that action will have on the flow of refugees elsewhere? The Secretary of State will, I am sure, be aware that last year 35,000 people came to Europe through Russia. What will be the impact on that land route if the sea route is to be closed down? What will that mean for the deployment of resources elsewhere in the Mediterranean, in particular assisting those travelling from Libya to Italy? The Secretary of State will be aware that the coastguard cutters were deployed on that route last year. Will they be available to help those who get into difficulty on that route, on which there have been many more deaths by drowning than there have been on the route through the Aegean sea?

If this is to be a war against people trafficking, I fear that, as with all wars, there will be innocent victims. The innocent victims, it seems to me, will be those who are desperate enough to undertake the journeys across the Aegean, across the land routes and across other parts of the Mediterranean. Will the Secretary of State assure me and the House that those people will be uppermost in the Government’s consideration?

Michael Fallon: There are, of course, already innocent victims of that people trafficking. Several hundred have drowned this winter, and several thousand drowned last year. It is in all our interests to reduce the number of people who attempt the dangerous crossing. The right hon. Gentleman is right that we have to work at cutting off the supply much further back. We have done that through our contribution to the reconstruction of Syria and our aid programmes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and much further south in east and west Africa. So far as the creation of safe routes is concerned, I am not convinced that establishing some routes as safer than others will do anything to reduce the flow. On the contrary, we need to increase the capacity of, in particular, the Turkish authorities and the Turkish coastguard to intercept the boats before they set off on that very dangerous crossing.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me specifically about interception. The position is that if a boat in distress can be intercepted in Turkish waters by the Turkish authorities —perhaps alerted by the helicopters that are now deploying from the international force—there is a greater chance that the Turkish coastguard will be able to return that boat to the Turkish side. If such a boat is intercepted in international or Greek waters, it is more likely to be taken to one of the Greek reception points. So far as the effect on the alternative route that opened up last summer from Libya to Italy is concerned, HMS Enterprise is

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still on station in the Tyrrhenian sea and only yesterday rescued around 100 people. It is important to begin to establish a policy of return, so that there is less incentive for migrants to attempt those extremely dangerous crossings and less incentive for criminal gangs to make money out of their doing so.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): If it is now established European Union and UK policy that illegal migrants should be returned, why are not the instructions to the personnel on our boats simply to take people back to where they have come from if they do not have legal papers or if they are not genuine asylum seekers?

Michael Fallon: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Brussels today discussing the entire issue of returns with European Union and other countries that are attending that meeting. It is unlikely that RFA Mounts Bay will be involved in rescuing people from boats in distress. Of course, the law of the sea places that obligation on her, but she will be further off the coast. It is more likely that a helicopter will be able to identify boats closer to shore in immediate distress that can be picked up by the Turkish or the Greek authorities and returned under their law.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I am sure that the thoughts and gratitude of the whole House are with the men and women aboard RFA Mounts Bay as they join the NATO deployment in the Aegean sea. Once again, the crisis demonstrates how the British armed forces play a crucial role, not only in securing our domestic security but in contributing to peace and stability across the world.

People trafficking is the world’s second largest form of organised crime, generating billions from the misery and suffering of some of the planet’s most desperate people. There is a real urgency not only to deterring and bringing to justice the people responsible, but also to deterring the victims from undertaking the perilous journey. Although we welcome the role that RFA Mounts Bay will play, it is a small contribution to a gigantic crisis. That may be a reminder of the fact that the Royal Navy’s surface fleet has been reduced by a sixth since 2010.

Does the Secretary of State feel that our naval resources are too stretched to play a larger role in this operation? Does he believe that, rather than protecting UK seas, the three Border Force vessels are in the Aegean because of the reduction in naval capacity caused by the 2010 strategic defence and security review? To that end, what more can he tell us about when the national shipbuilding strategy will report, and how quickly does he think the new class of lighter frigates to replace the Type 23s will be available to the Navy?

The fact that NATO has joined what was previously an EU role further demonstrates the extent to which our role in the EU enhances our global security. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that leaving the EU may bring refugee camps to the streets of Britain, and what more can he tell us about the ways in which he believes the EU helps us to keep Britons safe?

Once again, we salute British servicemen and women who are making the world safer and fairer. The Government must make sure that we have a strategy in place to ensure that—in the air, at sea and on the land—Britain can always answer the call.

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Michael Fallon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Let me reciprocate by sending our good wishes to Captain Taylor and the crew of Mounts Bay, the 200 Royal Marines embarked on her and the helicopter squadron accompanying her.

So far as sufficiency is concerned, there are five NATO ships on station at the moment—a German ship, which is the flagship of the group, a Greek ship, a Canadian ship, an Italian ship and a Turkish ship—and ours makes that six ships spread out across the Aegean. Of course, there are 22 other members of NATO, and I hope that they will consider what contribution they can make. Mounts Bay is a substantial ship and, with a helicopter platform, it can contribute significantly to the surveillance, particularly of the middle part of the Aegean. We envisage that Mounts Bay will operate mainly in waters just west of Chios.

In so far as the shipbuilding strategy is relevant, we are developing the strategy in the light of the SDSR, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and we hope to complete it later this year. On his attempt to bring NATO and European Union membership into this, let me make this clear to him: the mission in the sea between Libya and Italy is a European Union mission, because in dealing with the new Libyan Government, it may need the legal authorities that the European Union can add; the group deployed in the Aegean is a NATO mission, because it of course involves a ship of the Turkish navy and is largely dealing with migrants from Turkey, which is a member of NATO. That perfectly illustrates that we need to be members of both NATO and the European Union, and that being members of both gives us the best of both worlds.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and, indeed, the Royal Navy for its commitment to this mission, which demonstrates that we have an important role to play in European defence and security. By making it clear that this is a NATO mission, he underlines the point that NATO provides the security of our continent, not the European Union, as the Government seek to pretend.

Michael Fallon: This is a NATO mission—it was proposed by Germany, which is leading this particular standing maritime group—but the equally important mission in the Tyrrhenian sea, between Sicily and Libya, is a European Union mission. There are other examples of European Union missions—in Bosnia, and off the horn of Africa—that have been equally effective in saving lives.

Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): We welcome the decision by the UK Government to join NATO in trying to tackle the truly awful levels of human trafficking in the Mediterranean. However, we believe that this has to be a two-pronged approach—one that involves stopping the trafficking, but also involves rescuing and resettling the refugees. May I put on the record my thanks to the people of Bute in my constituency, who have shown such support and compassion to the refugees who have arrived in their community, and may I pay tribute to the Scottish Government, who have given our refugees the best possible chance to integrate as fully as possible? As the crisis worsens, the need for the UK Government to commit to take 3,000 unaccompanied vulnerable and

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displaced children becomes an ever more urgent priority. Further to that and looking at the bigger picture, when will the Secretary of State update the House, as he promised he would do, on the Government’s military strategy in Syria?

Michael Fallon: On the first point, I welcome the contribution Scotland is making. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to know that some of the Royal Marines on board Mounts Bay are from Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland. I am glad that he welcomes the mission.

On refugees, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have committed to take refugees from the camps in Syria and to take unaccompanied children that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees identifies further west in Europe. We have played a leading part in that, as we did in the reconstruction conference on the future of Syria.

So far as military operations in Syria are concerned, we regularly update the information on the Ministry of Defence website. I am very happy to answer any additional questions the hon. Gentleman has.[Official Report, 9 March 2016, Vol. 607, c. 4MC.]

Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the role of the Navy. Many hands do, indeed, make light work. Forgive me for being over-simplistic, but I would like to understand whether our latest offering is purely about moving bodies back to coastlines, or whether it integrates somehow with the resettlement of refugees and the chaos that our European neighbours find themselves in.

Michael Fallon: The primary purpose of the mission is to provide monitoring, surveillance and reconnaissance of the migration route across the Aegean, which will better enable the Turkish and Greek coastguards to intercept the boats and disrupt the business model of the criminal traffickers. When they can intercept the boats in either Turkish or Greek waters, they are better able to rescue those on board before they get too far out to sea in the more dangerous areas.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): Obviously, preventing people from risking their lives by making such a dangerous journey is the right thing for the EU and NATO to try to do. However, 13,000 people who have already arrived in Greece are at the Macedonian border in terrible wet, damp and cold conditions, including children with bronchitis. The Secretary of State has said that the British Government will not take any of them. Where does he think those 13,000 people should go?

Michael Fallon: The British Government are taking refugees from Syria, as we have made clear, and some of them have arrived here in the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is urging his European counterparts to get to grips with the problem of those who have arrived inside the Schengen area and to take steps to ensure that they are not shuttled from one fence to the next. Europe has to adopt a more sensible policy.[Official Report, 9 March 2016, Vol. 607, c. 4MC.]

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Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I ask my right hon. Friend about the rules for interception? For instance, what would happen if the people on these makeshift craft refused to get on board a royal naval vessel or, indeed, if the people traffickers opened fire on our sailors or marines?

Michael Fallon: It was certainly our experience last year that migrants in boats that were sinking or in distress very much welcomed the presence of the Royal Navy and were very eager to get on board the ships that we had deployed, because they knew that they would be safe. The traffickers appear to take very great care not to be on the vessels and have them launched by those who are being smuggled. Where they can be identified—this is where the monitoring and surveillance can assist—they can be charged and prosecuted, as they are being in parts of Turkey.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome this deployment. As the Secretary of State knows, 1 million migrants entered the EU last year, 885,000 of them through Greece. Last week, Europol told us that 90% of those who have entered have come as a result of assistance from criminal gangs. We are in this place because of the failure of the EU, and in particular Frontex, to deal properly with those gangs, and there has been no alternative to the business model that the traffickers are adopting. Does he agree that Turkey is the critical country, and the issue is to stop the boats leaving in the first place? Key to that is giving Turkey the resources that the EU promised—€3 billion—to get it to assist with this difficult problem.

Michael Fallon: I agree with almost all that. It is important that the European Union follows through on its commitment of financial help for Turkey, and we must build up the capacity of the Turkish coastguard. I hope that this deployment will build up a picture of the information and intelligence that the Turkish coastguard needs, so that it can start to intercept vessels before they leave Turkish waters. Those vessels can then be returned to Turkey, and that will be the clearest possible signal to people who are paying large sums of money that the journey will be futile, and they will be discouraged from making it.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that Turkey is doing enough at the moment to help? Tens of thousands of plastic dinghies are being imported by Turkey from China to allow this trade to continue, and similarly, phoney lifejackets are being sold in Izmir. Why are the Turkish Government not doing something about that?

Michael Fallon: Of course the Turkish Government can do more, but so can other Governments, such as the Greek Government. There is a lack of capacity in both Greece and Turkey to deal with what is now migration on a substantial scale. We all need to help, and the European Union must get a grip of its migration policy. Turkey will need help, but it must also be more robust in dealing with migration routes. This Government have decided that we too, with the largest Navy in Europe, ought to help where we can.

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Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I welcome this deployment and wish RFA Mounts Bay and her crew all the best. What is the legal status of immigrants if they are picked up by Mounts Bay, and particularly if they claim asylum? We faced that issue when we were in office and there were operations off the coast of Somalia.

Michael Fallon: The legal position is that people cannot claim asylum on board Mounts Bay if it is not in UK territorial waters, so that is not as easy as the hon. Gentleman might think. We are working with other Governments to develop a policy that will ensure that those who are picked up in international waters can be returned to Turkey. At present, those who are picked up in Turkish waters by the Turkish coastguard can be taken back to Turkey, but as I have said, if they are picked up in Greek or international waters—the boundary there is complex and indeed disputed around the islands of the eastern Aegean—at the moment they will be taken to a place of safety in Greece.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Given that this is an extremely lucrative trade for people smugglers and that, as the Minister says, Turkey does not have the capacity to do this on its own, how can we be sure that this is not a revolving door involving migrants who are being taken back to Turkey, allowed to stay there a while, and then get back on boats again to try their luck several times?

Michael Fallon: The best assurance that I can give my hon. Friend is that we are determined to try to help Turkey to break that business model, by ensuring that those who smuggle and send women or unaccompanied children on insecure boats for what may be a short but still a very dangerous sea crossing, can be identified, charged and prosecuted through the Turkish courts, so that we eventually discourage the flow from the beginning.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): From Mare Nostrum in 2014, which we failed to finance properly, to the Frontex operations, there is a singular lack of strategy and sense of urgency. The deployment of Mounts Bay was actually announced two months ago, and I am not really clear on what it is doing that had not already been previously announced. On a very specific point, may I invite the Secretary of State to put in writing his understanding of the legal position of anybody picked up by Mounts Bay? Frankly, my understanding is closer to that of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) than it is to the position the Secretary of State has just enunciated.

Michael Fallon: The deployment of Mounts Bay was announced late last night following the agreement reached between NATO, Greece and Turkey by the Secretary-General, so the right hon. Lady is not right on that. It is not the aim of Mounts Bay to pick up large numbers of migrants—she will be further offshore than that. As I say, the objective is for her to be able to deploy her helicopter, help the rest of the NATO standing group, the Turkish and Greek coastguards and the Frontex operation to build up a proper picture of where migrants are setting off from and to help them to be intercepted before they get into international waters. I am very happy to write to her about the legal point she raises.

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Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): When I visited the points of embarkation and arrival, I spoke to migrants and refugees. I found them to be extremely well informed and responsive to clear signals when Governments actually give them. The migrants I spoke to were under the very strong impression that they were extremely unlikely to be turned around in the Mediterranean and returned to Turkey. On the experience of the migrants I spoke to, my right hon. Friend would surely agree it is essential that Europe is brave, intercepts as many crafts as possible and returns them to Turkey. News of that would be heard by migrants, refugees and the people smugglers, and they would take note of it. It is the only sure way to deter the trade.

Michael Fallon: I agree with my hon. Friend. Signals are picked up very quickly and very clearly by large numbers of young men further down the chain in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and, as we have seen on the Libyan coastline, further south in Africa itself. What has not happened so far is any policy of returns—nobody has actually been sent back. We need to start with those who are intercepted in Turkish waters and send them back to Turkey, so that we start to stem the flow.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): On Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting members of the Oasis Cardiff centre in my constituency and the Cardiff and Vale Sanctuary Support group. They do amazing work in supporting people who have made hazardous journeys in horrendous circumstances. I also met the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, the former Member for Eddisbury, who raised concerns about the widening instability in the Lake Chad region and across the Sahel, which is another driving factor in forcing people to make such hazardous journeys. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that enough global and regional attention is being applied to that instability and those conflicts, as well as to those in Syria and Iraq?

Michael Fallon: The hon. Gentleman is right. When I visited HMS Bulwark last summer just a few weeks after she had begun operations in the Mediterranean, she had already picked up some 20 to 25 different nationalities from east Africa and west Africa. That is why it is important to help to tackle this problem much further back at source, and to do what we can to stabilise the regions, grow their economies and give young men there every incentive to stay and build a life there rather than to set out on these very hazardous journeys. We are contributing substantially to development in Africa, both in the east and the west, and we have latterly announced new peacekeeping missions to South Sudan and to Somalia.

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): I welcome this deployment. Does capability exist on the Royal Navy ship to gather evidence—in particular, on the seaworthiness of the boats—and statements from people who are picked up, so they can be used in future prosecutions to tackle the criminal gangs who traffic them?

Michael Fallon: Yes, Mounts Bay and our other units deployed there are well able to gather the information to which my hon. Friend refers. The key is that it be brought together and to the attention of the Turkish authorities

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so that they can start to bear down more heavily on these operations, nail the masterminds behind these criminal gangs, get them charged and prosecuted and start to reduce the flow.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): I appreciate that Mounts Bay will be on an observation and deterrence mission, but the chances are it will be involved in picking up migrants. What personnel will be there from the Home Office and what training will be given to staff in relation to working with vulnerable, isolated children and vulnerable adults who might well be picked up but whom we do not want returned into the hands of people traffickers?

Michael Fallon: Those deployed on the Border Force cutters have that kind of training, but Mounts Bay is a much larger ship—16,000 tonnes—and will be operating in deeper waters to the west of Chios, so it is less likely, although not impossible, that it will be picking up large numbers of migrants; it is its helicopter that we hope will be identifying boats in distress, much closer to the shore, and working closely with the two respective coastguards.

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): EU Navfor concentrates on Somalian piracy but claims in its mandate to provide support to other EU missions. Will the Secretary of State explain why it has not been able to meet this tasking without NATO support and when he expects EU Navfor to expand to the point where it is capable of deploying British naval power without NATO?

Michael Fallon: Maritime standing group 2 operates in the eastern Mediterranean, and so is the logical group to deploy to the Aegean, and happens also to comprise a Greek and a Turkish ship, which is equally important when operating in Aegean waters, as well as a Canadian, a German and an Italian vessel. In this instance, therefore, the NATO group was ideally placed. As my hon. Friend says, however, EU Navfor, commanded from Northwood, is bearing down on piracy in the horn of Africa. It has been a very successful mission, and it is an EU mission because if we are to enable the pirates to be prosecuted in third countries, we need the legal instruments available to the EU that would not, for example, be available to NATO. That is another illustration of how it is useful to be members of both the EU and the alliance.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I welcome the Defence Secretary’s announcement. Does he foresee the need for an additional deployment of Royal Navy ships in the Mediterranean to assist those already there, including the two Border Force cutters? In respect of those two cutters, what assessment has been made of the impact on policing our own waters, which is obviously of equal importance to people living in the UK?

Michael Fallon: We will certainly keep our deployment under review. As I said, we have Mounts Bay now and the three Border Force cutters in the Aegean, as well as HMS Enterprise in the Tyrrhenian sea helping to police the route between Libya and Sicily. We can do that and still fulfil our other standing commitments, to which the

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hon. Gentleman might be referring, in both the Gulf and home waters. The Border Force cutters have the assistance of military personnel on board, supplementing the Border Force, and Royal Marines to add force protection.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Chancellor Merkel’s unilateral and ill-advised announcement that Germany’s borders were open and that everyone was welcome hugely compounded the migration problem by creating a huge pull factor. What assurances has my right hon. Friend had from the German Chancellor that she will not repeat that mistake, and what EU laws allowed her to make a decision in the first place that ultimately caused a lot of misery and cost an awful lot of lives?

Michael Fallon: The German Chancellor is in Brussels today, engaging with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a search for better control of migration policy. So far as the legal basis for what is happening inside Europe at the moment is concerned, it is of course the Schengen area, of which we are not part. We still retain control of our own borders, but that does not absolve us of the humanitarian responsibility to help where we can, and it does not absolve us as one of the larger countries in Europe from continuing to call on European countries to get some grip on the migration crisis.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): With more refugees being sent back to Turkey, I must ask the Secretary of State again the questions posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael): what protection is in place for the refugees going back to Turkey to ensure that they will not be sent back to Syria; and is the Secretary of State confident that Turkey is a country to which refugees can be safely returned?

Michael Fallon: We certainly abide by our international obligations under the refugee convention, which means that we could not return any individual to a country where they might be in danger of persecution or inhuman treatment. That is why, as I said, those picked up in international waters or in Greek waters will not be returned to Turkey in the first instance. There are discussions going on with the Turkish Government to be sure that anyone who is returned to Turkey from outside Turkish waters can be dealt with safely.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): In associating myself with the tributes paid to the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and Border Force personnel, does the Secretary of State agree that it is not just they who we should thank, but their loved ones and families whom they leave at home and who want the separation to be as short as possible? What further support can we provide on the intelligence and policing front to go after the linchpins of these criminal gangs that prey on human weakness and people’s desperation?

Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the hidden heroes—the families who stand behind our servicemen and women and who cannot know, of course, because it is the nature of service life, when unexpected deployments are likely to

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arise. Quite often, they will often not know just how long they are expected to last. On my hon. Friend’s point about intelligence, there is increasing co-operation on counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing with the authorities in Turkey. Turkey itself has been subject to terrorist attacks from Daesh, and has every interest in co-operating with us.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): My right hon. Friend has fielded many questions on the terrible situation off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean, but it has also been pointed out that there is a migration challenge from north Africa across the Mediterranean. Will he say what steps the Italian naval forces and coastguard are taking to enhance their ability to intercept refugee boats?

Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend is right to draw our attention to the other route, which opened up significantly last summer and is beginning to open up again as the seas moderate. It is a longer route and a much more dangerous one. In answer to his specific point, the Italians are bearing the brunt of the naval effort south of Sicily. They have the most ships there and they are committed to continuing to develop the reception centres and the processing of the migrants that are rescued and taken to Sicily.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Royal Navy deployment shows the importance of the Type 26 global combat ship programme, not least because these frigates will have the flexibility to embark a Chinook, for example, and play a really important role in future humanitarian efforts—not least, of course, because David Brown Gear Systems in Lockwood in my constituency, which my right hon. Friend has visited, is in the supply chain?

Michael Fallon: I recall my visit to David Brown and seeing the gearing systems already being designed and produced. My hon. Friend is right about the usefulness of the forthcoming Type 26 frigates. What is important above all in this particular operation, of course, is the ability of the ship to carry a helicopter, and that is what Mounts Bay will bring. However, I note my hon. Friend’s point about the future development of the Type 26 design.

Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I recently spent a day at sea with HMS Portland as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme to learn more about the crucial work of the Royal Navy and the excellent work of our armed forces. Will my right hon. Friend outline the work and the role of the Royal Navy to date in helping to tackle the migration crisis?

Michael Fallon: The Royal Navy has been engaged in the Libyan route. Last summer, HMS Bulwark was first on the scene, and it has rescued several thousand migrants, whom it has helped to be resettled in Italy. HMS Enterprise is on station there now, continuing that task, and she rescued about 100 migrants yesterday. As I said earlier, Mounts Bay is on station west of Chios in the Aegean. I imagine that it will not be too long before her helicopter is involved in physically saving lives, as the Royal Navy has already done and has done down the centuries.

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Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): The Royal Navy deployment that was announced today will turn up the heat on the traffickers and help to keep migrants and asylum seekers safe. Does not our ability to take these steps, alongside our other commitments, underscore why it is right to increase defence spending for each year of this Parliament?

Michael Fallon: Yes, it does. The Royal Navy itself is the biggest beneficiary of the increase in defence spending that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his July Budget, and of which we gave more details in the strategic defence review. Defence expenditure will start to rise again in three weeks, for the first time for six years, and will continue to rise in every year of the current Parliament. That is because we are putting the public finances that we inherited in order, and because we are running a strong economy.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): Thousands of stranded refugees are currently in Idomeni, a small village on the Greek border with Macedonia, awaiting the decision at the EU summit that could determine their fate. It has just been reported that a young boy has been killed after being accidentally electrocuted at the camp. Does the Secretary of State accept that the human cost of this crisis is too high, and that it is clear that much more needs to be done to tackle the problem than simply deploying ships to the Aegean?

Michael Fallon: Lives have been lost already. Thousands drowned in the Mediterranean last year, and several hundred drowned this winter. However, I hope that the hon. Lady would not decry the contribution that we are making. The Royal Navy saved lives last year, and it will be saving lives this year through the operation that was announced today.

Mr Speaker: Let us hear from a cerebral inquisitor. Yes—Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his characteristic courtesy in coming to the House in person to answer the urgent question. Is this not a very interesting case study of the difference between the European Union and NATO? NATO manages to get on and save lives in a problematic situation for which the EU must take at least a large share of the blame, and which has been exacerbated by the consequences of Chancellor Merkel’s decision. While NATO is there, actively doing things, the best—the most mealy-mouthed meeting of murmurating Ministers—that can be provided by the European Union does nothing.

Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend’s views on this matter are fairly well known, and I have to tell him that, sadly, I do not entirely share them. To me it does not really matter, in the end, under whose auspices this mission is organised. The European Union mission is in the sea between Libya and Italy; this happens to be a NATO mission. What is most important, I think, is that the mission takes place and we become involved in saving lives, whatever the auspices under which the mission happens to be organised.

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Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that NATO has had to be called upon to protect the Greek border is further evidence that the European Union is incapable of securing its own borders? Does he also agree that people would be well advised to bear that in mind when they vote in the referendum on 23 June?

Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend and I might not agree on everything that people should have to bear in mind when it comes to the referendum. Both Greece and Turkey are members of NATO, and that is why I think that this mission has a greater chance of success under NATO’s auspices. I hope that other countries will join the mission and, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) said earlier, I hope that there will be a successful outcome to the discussions in Brussels today and that the European Union will rise to the challenge of coping with what is a quite extraordinary migration crisis.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): Over the past few months, I have met marines and servicemen and women on the ships that have been involved in these rescues, and some of their tales have been absolutely heartbreaking. It is welcome that they are bringing their professionalism to this deployment. Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are to smash the business model that these criminal gangs profit from, it is vital to break the link between being smuggled to Europe in dangerous unseaworthy boats and being resettled?

Michael Fallon: I absolutely agree with that. There are clearly people smugglers in Turkey who are making huge amounts of money from this operation and have no care at all about whether those whom they push off in those unstable boats will make it safely to the Greek islands. The sooner we can start to disrupt that evil trade, the better.

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Point of Order

4.21 pm

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week, NHS England announced its Healthy New Towns programme. I was interested in that because seven of the 10 towns involved are in the south, none is in the midlands and, despite the links between poverty and ill health, eight are in Conservative constituencies. I wanted to find out whether organisations in the west midlands had submitted bids, and if not, why not. I asked NHS England for that information, but it refused to give me a list of those who had submitted bids to the programme. It also refused to tell me the basis on which the bids had been allocated, saying that this contained commercially sensitive information, even though all I wanted to know was the geographical areas from which bids had been received, rather than the names of the bidders themselves. I tabled four named-day parliamentary questions to the Department of Health and got the same ridiculous, contemptuous reply to each of them:

“The Department does not hold information on the applications to the Healthy New Towns programme.”

Frankly, that is unbelievable; I do not think that any sensible person could believe that answer for a minute.

First, Mr Speaker, is it in order for the Department to provide such incredible answers? Secondly, why are the Department of Health and its Ministers now routinely refusing to answer questions about lots of different NHS issues, claiming that they are the responsibility of NHS England and nothing to do with the Department itself? Is it in order for Ministers to provide such utterly contemptuous responses to Members’ questions, and for Government Departments and public bodies to refuse to provide this basic information?

Mr Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As he knows, the Chair is not responsible for the content of ministerial answers, although there is a general understanding in this place that Ministers’ answers should be both timely and substantive. If he is dissatisfied with the paucity or the emptiness of the replies that he receives, or if he judges, simply as a matter of fact, that he has received no answer at all, the best recourse available to him is to approach the Procedure Committee, of which, as Chairman, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) is a distinguished ornament, and who, happily, whether by serendipity or contrivance, is present in the Chamber to hear that point of order. I trust that any exchange between them, whether in conversation or correspondence, will be fruitful.

The only other observation that I would make to the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) is that he and I were at university together more than 30 years ago and he was a very persistent woodpecker then. Nothing that has happened in the intervening three decades has caused me to revise my opinion on that, so if people feel that they can just go on ignoring him, they are probably in for something of a rude shock, because he does not give up—he tends to go on and on and, if necessary, on. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s palate has been satisfied, at least for today.

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Policing and Crime Bill

Second Reading

4.25 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As hon. Members of this House are aware, since 2010 the Government have implemented the most radical programme of police reform in decades. That programme is bringing about real and substantial change, and has made policing more accountable, more efficient and more effective. At the same time, we have ensured that policing plays its part in helping to get this country’s finances back on track. We reduced police budgets, saving £1.5 billion in cash terms from 2010-11 to 2015-16, and crime has fallen. Today, crime is down by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales.

However, the task of police reform is not yet finished. Last autumn, through the spending review, we protected police spending in real terms over the course of this Parliament, once the local precept is taken into account. But no one should be under the illusion that this settlement allows police forces to ease off on the throttle of reform. Over the course of this Parliament we must continue to apply the lessons of the past five and a half years and ensure that policing can respond not just to the challenges of today, but to the challenges of tomorrow, too.

Crime has fallen, but it is still too high. The public rightly expect the highest standards of integrity and professionalism from the police. The challenges ahead are complex and difficult: the growing threat from terrorism; the changing menace of serious and organised crime, fraud and cybercrime; and the increasing role technology plays in crime. We are also seeing increasing numbers of people having the confidence to come forward to report child sexual abuse and other crimes such as domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The Home Secretary was talking a moment ago about cybercrime and the changing nature of crime. She makes claims about crime numbers falling, but does she not accept that in fact crime is changing? I have here answers from the Home Office stating that it is dealing with 1,000 cases a week of terrorism-related material, 70% of which is from Daesh. There are huge changes in the types of extremist activities online. Does she accept that crime is changing and might not be falling?

Mrs May: I say to the hon. Gentleman that the figures from the independent crime survey show that crime has fallen by more than a quarter since 2010. Crime is indeed changing. That is precisely why we have set up the National Cyber Crime Unit inside the new National Crime Agency, which was formed over the past five and a half years. He cites a figure of 1,000 pieces of internet material, but that is a slightly different issue; it refers to the number of pieces of material on the internet that are now being taken down on average every week by the counter-terrorism internet referral unit. Members of the public and others are able to refer pieces of material to the police, and we have a very good relationship there, with the police working with the companies to take that material down. He rightly says that the quantity

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of the material that is being taken down, a lot of which will relate to Daesh, is significant. That is one of the reasons why we have not only worked to have the CTIRU here in the UK, but have worked with our European partners to ensure that at Europol a comparable European body has been set up, and it is also working to take down terrorist and extremist material from the internet.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): The Secretary of State mentioned the exploitation of teenagers, and I am sure she is aware of the Children’s Society’s “Seriously Awkward” campaign. Several constituents have written to me about this asking whether I could raise the issue of whether there is scope within this Bill to address teenage sexual exploitation, particularly that of 16 and 17-year-olds, and the use of drugs and alcohol. They specifically ask for more powers for the police to intervene to stop the sexual exploitation of vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds through drugs, through drink, and through coercion and grooming, and for a new offence to be brought forward to deal with those who use drugs and alcohol. Does she think that is a possibility?

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman mentions the serious matter of the exploitation of those who are perhaps above the age of consent, which therefore raises different issues for the police and for the policing of those crimes. However, the police do have the powers to deal with that today, but I am sure that the issue will be raised during the course of debate on this Bill. It is right to point out that, when we talk about sexual exploitation, it is not just younger children who are potentially subject to it, but teenagers of the age to which he refers.

If policing is successfully to meet the challenges that it faces over the next five years, we must continue to reform it to drive efficiency, new capability, and higher levels of professionalism and integrity. This Bill is directed towards those ends.

Let me turn now to the provisions in the Bill. Many in this House will know of excellent examples of collaboration between the emergency services in different parts of the country. Although each of the emergency services has its own primary set of responsibilities, there is clearly scope to unlock the benefits that can be derived from closer working, including reducing costs. For example, in Cheshire, the police and the fire and rescue service are integrating most of their back-office functions and establishing a single, shared headquarters by April 2018, delivering estimated savings of nearly £1.5 million a year and improving the quality of service to the public.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary also urge some joined-up thinking on her ministerial colleagues, because there are some huge opportunities as a result of the devolution agenda? In places such as Greater Manchester, for example, where the boundaries of the police and crime commissioner, the mayor and the fire authority are coterminous, there is an opportunity to join up the services as a single unit. In other devolved areas, there is not that coterminosity, which then deprives them of the same type of shared services.

Mrs May: First, the hon. Gentleman is right about Greater Manchester. Obviously, it has taken a number of steps in that direction. The fire and rescue service has signed an agreement to work with North West Ambulance Service so that it can respond to cardiac arrest cases in

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the region. The critical risk intervention team in Greater Manchester brings police, fire and rescue and ambulance services together, showing in a very real sense how, on the ground, this collaboration can be very effective and bring a better service for people.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the coterminosity issue is a factor in some of these devolution deals. I am very clear that police and crime commissioners should be involved in discussions about devolution deals as they go ahead, but what we are doing in the Bill is enabling police and crime commissioners to have that collaboration with fire and rescue services—but bottom up, so that local areas will determine what suits them in their local area. The benefits that we have seen in areas such as Great Manchester can be brought to other parts of the country. There are other examples. Hampshire, Northamptonshire and many other places are also looking to put that collaboration into practice under the leadership of police and crime commissioners.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I am grateful to the Home Secretary for mentioning Hampshire before I did. I know that she is looking for reform to continue and for collaboration between the emergency services. I am sure that she is aware of the H3 project in Hampshire between the county council, the constabulary and the fire and rescue service, which is a genuine trailblazer in this area. The partners in that collaboration are already delivering savings of 20%, so is Hampshire not the apple of her eye as she embarks on this Bill?

James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con): Go on, make his day.

Mrs May: I am tempted to do that. I should perhaps respond that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) is the apple of my eye when he stands up and makes such a point about Hampshire. [Interruption.] Well, I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) that he has not yet put into practice what he said he wished to do.

Hampshire is a very good example of the collaboration that can work. The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice has visited Hampshire. He has seen Winchester fire and rescue service and the police station. These are all innovative ideas that provide a better service to people. I commend Hampshire and other parts of the country where they are putting this collaboration into practice.

David Warburton (Somerton and Frome) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that collaboration and co-operation are very important when an incident occurs? During and after the Somerset floods, many of my constituents wrote to me and spoke to me about the importance of the emergency services working in tandem. That is the best way to ensure that the most vulnerable in each community get the help they need.

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. When an incident takes place, the three emergency services will often be called and will have to work together. That is why the Government did a great deal of work under JESIP, the joint emergency services interoperability programme, to look at improving how the three services work together—the protocols, the

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language that is used and the command structures that can be put in place—so that, as my hon. Friend says, they also work together on their emergency response.

The national picture remains patchy. Collaboration should be the rule, not the exception. That is why, as I have said, part 1 of the Bill places an overarching duty on the three emergency services to collaborate. It will help to drive close working across the country when that would improve efficiency or effectiveness. In the case of police forces and fire and rescue services in particular, I believe that there is a compelling case for taking such collaboration agreements a step further. To facilitate enhanced collaboration and strengthen democratic oversight, part 1 provides a framework for police and crime commissioners to take responsibility for delivering foreign rescue services by local agreement.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): I am sure that my right hon. Friend would accept that one of the most challenging parts of our country in which to deliver police services is, of course, Northern Ireland. I am sure that she is aware of the fantastic steps that have been taken in Northern Ireland to share training for the police and the fire authority and the huge savings that that has delivered. Could we not learn something in this House from Northern Ireland’s contribution to training?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, we must recognise that there are particular policing challenges for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but it is right that the police and the fire and rescue service train together there, and that is a very good example.

To return to the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) about the emergency services coming together to deal with the flooding in Somerset, training together can help that emergency collaboration when an incident takes place. Over the past three and a half years PCCs have proved the value of having a single democratically elected figure by providing visible leadership, proper local accountability and real local scrutiny of how chief constables and their forces perform while driving reform and innovation and finding efficiencies to ensure value for money for the taxpayer. In nine weeks’ time, voters up and down the country will be able to hold PCCs to account for their performance and judge new candidates on their proposals in the most powerful way possible, through the ballot box. I believe that it is now time to extend the benefits of the PCC model of governance to the fire service when it would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, or public safety to do so.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): There is no doubt that as Home Secretary, the right hon. Lady has altered for ever the landscape of policing in our country. PCCs are an example of that. Does she share my concern about the number of candidates applying for jobs as chief constables? In the case of half of the chief constable posts advertised in the country in the past couple of years, only one candidate has come forward for each job. In the West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and the Home Secretary’s own area of Thames Valley, the deputy has got the top job. They are all excellent candidates, but is it not a worry that so few people are applying at that very high level?

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Mrs May: The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue. It is a matter that I have discussed with the College of Policing in the context of its leadership work and with Sara Thornton of the National Police Chiefs Council. It is not new to have a small number of people applying for chief constable posts. That is one of the things that happens in policing; people tend to work out who they think will get a job and often do not apply if they think that somebody else will almost certainly get it. That has been the practice over the years, but we have seen a number of cases in which there have been single applicants, which is a cause for concern. That is why I have been discussing the matter with bodies responsible for considering leadership in policing to see whether steps can be taken to change that.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mrs May: I will give way one further time, then I will make some progress.

Ian Austin: We in the west midlands are delighted with the appointment of our new chief constable, Dave Thompson, who we think will do a remarkable job, but can the Home Secretary explain to me why he and his colleagues have had to deal with that police force losing 25% of its budget, compared to Surrey, which has lost just 10% or 12%?

Mrs May: May I, too, commend Chief Constable Dave Thompson in the west midlands? I and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), were aware of the work that he did in relation to gangs, which he was doing with the Home Office for a number of years. Once again, the Labour party seems incapable of recognising the settlement that has been given for policing over the next four years, and the fact that we have given that stability to police financing over the next few years.

I return to the topic of collaboration between the emergency services. Where a local case is made, the Bill will enable a PCC to take this one step further by integrating the senior management teams of the police force and the fire and rescue service under a single chief officer. This single employer model will allow the rapid consolidation of back-office functions without the complexities of negotiating collaboration agreements between the PCC, the chief constable and one or more fire and rescue authorities. I should stress that under these reforms police officers and firefighters will remain distinct and separate, as set out in law, albeit supported by increasingly integrated HR, ICT, finance, procurement, fleet management and other support services.

In London, we intend to strengthen democratic accountability by abolishing the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and bringing the London fire brigade, managed by the London fire commissioner, under the direct responsibility of the Mayor.

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con): Hear, hear.

Mrs May: These reforms to the arrangements in London are supported by all the key bodies, including the authority itself.

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The vast majority of police officers and police staff discharge their duties with integrity and professionalism, upholding the best traditions of policing in this country. But where the actions of a minority fall short of the high standards that the public are entitled to expect, there need to be arrangements in place so that the conduct in question can be properly looked into and the matter resolved in a timely and proportionate manner.

In the previous Parliament we took steps to improve standards of police integrity and to strengthen the police disciplinary system. Disciplinary hearings are now held in public and overseen by an independent legally qualified chair. Police officers who are dismissed now have their name held on a “struck off” register so that they cannot join another force. Where corruption is involved, officers can for the first time be prosecuted for a specific offence of police corruption, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is being beefed up to take on all serious and sensitive cases.

However, there are still significant shortcomings in the current system: indeed, almost three quarters of people complaining to the police are not satisfied with how their complaint is handled. The current arrangements are seen by the police and the public alike as being too complex, too adversarial, too drawn out and lacking sufficient independence from the police. So the provisions in part 2 will build on the reforms that we have already introduced and make the police complaints and discipline systems simpler, more transparent and more robust.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I appreciate the Home Secretary giving way. Is she as concerned as I am about the length of delay in the disciplinary process and transparency about the failings in relation to Poppi Worthington’s death in Cumbria? What will the Bill do to speed up the process and increase transparency in such circumstances?

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise a case about which many people were deeply concerned to see what had happened and how it was handled. I understand that there is an issue for the IPCC in relation to a possible inquest, and the interaction between the IPCC and the inquest. These are challenges that we need to consider very carefully to ensure that the proper process can take place in a timely fashion, and that people do not find that these processes appear to be dragged out for a significant time. There are genuine issues sometimes in relation to inquests and IPCC investigations that have to be properly dealt with and addressed, but I know that everybody was concerned about the appalling case that the hon. Gentleman referred to, and he is right to raise it, as I know he has done previously in this House.

Part 2 builds on the reforms in relation to police complaints and disciplinary systems, and the changes will ensure we can strip away much of the system’s restrictive bureaucracy, remove the opaque categorisation for handling complaints and streamline the complex appeals process by replacing the existing five avenues of appeal with a single review of the outcome of the complaint.

The police will be given a new duty to resolve complaints in a reasonable and proportionate manner, while also having greater flexibility in how they meet that duty. We are also injecting greater independence into the system

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by strengthening PCCs’ oversight role and making them the appellate body for those appeals currently heard by chief constables. It will also be open to PCCs to take on responsibility for other aspects of the complaints-handling process, including the recording of complaints and keeping complainants informed of progress.

The Bill will create a system of “super-complaints”. These are complaints that can be brought by a designated organisation, such as a charity or advocacy body, on a particular issue, which might relate, for example, to a pattern of policing that could undermine legitimacy. This will enable national or cross-force issues to be examined by the inspectorate, the IPCC or the College of Policing, as appropriate.

Part 2 strengthens the protections for police whistle- blowers by enabling their concerns to be investigated by the IPCC, while protecting their identity so that they have the confidence to come forward without fear of jeopardising their own careers. It also enhances public confidence in the police disciplinary system, including by ensuring that disciplinary action can continue against officers after they have resigned or retired, and by placing the police “struck off” list on a statutory footing to ensure that no one dismissed from one police force can be re-employed by another. Taken together, these reforms represent a fundamental overhaul of the police complaints and disciplinary systems.

In addition, part 2 includes provisions to increase the powers and independence of the IPCC. However, we also need to ensure that the body charged with overseeing the system as a whole is itself organised in such a way as to best equip it to efficiently and effectively discharge its enhanced role.

Following an independent review by Sheila Drew Smith and our recent consultation on changes to the governance of the IPCC, I have concluded that the existing commission model, with commissioners having operational responsibilities, is no longer suitable to oversee the expanding organisation in the new system. At a time when the IPCC is growing as an organisation to take on all serious and sensitive cases, it needs to be more streamlined, more responsive to the public and better able to cope with the cases it is taking on. I therefore intend to bring forward amendments to the Bill to provide for a new governance model.

The reformed organisation will be headed by a director general, appointed by Her Majesty the Queen. The director general will have ultimate responsibility for individual case working decisions, including in respect of the investigation of the most serious and sensitive allegations involving the police. Corporate governance will be provided by a board comprising a majority of non-executive directors, appointed by the Home Secretary, which will have oversight of the overall running of the organisation. It follows that as, under the new governance model, there will be no commissioners, we cannot continue with the name “Independent Police Complaints Commission”. The reformed organisation will instead be known as the Office for Police Conduct.

I should add that the IPCC is supportive of the need for reform, and I am grateful for the input and co-operation of the current chair and chief executive during the development of these proposals.

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Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I broadly welcome what the Home Secretary is outlining in terms of the IPCC, but one complaint I have from constituents is about the time the IPCC takes to deal with some very simple cases. Constituents would rather know that there was no case to answer than see things being dragged out. Are there any proposals to have different tracks for more complex cases and simple cases?

Mrs May: Yes. It is important that all cases are dealt with in as timely a fashion as possible. Beefing up the ability of local complaints procedures to deal with what we might see as simpler local complaints may very well enable people to get a better response from that local complaints process, rather than feeling that things then have to be put through to the IPCC, which will have a focus on serious and sensitive cases. Also, the restructuring will help to smooth the process by which cases are looked at by what will be the OPC.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): This Second Reading debate is not the time to go into the details of the case of former sergeant Gurpal Virdi, but will the Home Secretary ask her advisers to talk to the IPCC about why it is saying that his complaint should be referred back to the Met’s department of professional standards, given that the complaint was about its behaviour in the first place, in the incomprehensible prosecution that he had to endure last year?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend raises a case that, as I know from our discussions and correspondence, he has taken very seriously and acted on for some time now. I recognise the issue that he has raised. There are questions around this case that relate not just to the IPCC and the police but to the Crown Prosecution Service, and I know that he has taken those up. I will reflect on the point that he made.

In part 3, for the first time, we will create a list of core police powers that may be exercised only by warranted officers, such as powers of arrest and stop and search. Police powers that do not form part of this reserved list can be conferred by a chief officer on a member of police staff or a volunteer, provided that they are suitable and capable of carrying out the relevant role and have received the appropriate training. This will ensure that chief officers have the flexibility and freedoms to make best use of the skills, experience and training of their workforce, whether they are warranted officers, police staff or volunteers.

As Members of this House are aware, volunteers have much to offer policing. Over 16,000 special constables regularly give up their time to help keep our communities safe. However, forces are missing out on opportunities to use those with specialist skills, for example in IT or forensic accountancy, who would be prepared to volunteer their time but do not want to become a special constable. It makes no sense that a chief officer can vest all the powers of a constable in a volunteer, but lacks the ability to confer on a volunteer a narrower set of powers relevant to a particular role. The existing law also puts unnecessary constraints on a chief officer who wishes to maximise the operational effectiveness of police staff. The Bill removes these barriers while strengthening the role of warranted officers. It confers on chief officers the ability to designate police staff and volunteers with those policing powers appropriate to their role.